Jaka’s Cartoon: Germany, Merkel and the EU



Interviews with EU insiders. Some quotes


A couple of months we have walked the streets of Brussels now. Talking to folks working in the Brussels bubble brings new insights. We have talked to a correspondent, a freelance writer, a IT coordinator and a lobbyist.  The coming weeks you can expect two more conversations. One with a lobbyist, and one with somebody who is trying to monitor this lobbying business.

To give an oversight, down here a collection of quotes from our interviews so far. You can read the interviews in full, with more context, by clicking on the link at the end of the quote. The idea is to focus on the media and lobbying sector for the coming months. From there, we will see what happens. My guess is these sectors are pretty important to pay attention to right now.

Everyday a lobbyist can postpone legislation, he earns a million more for the company. Their own bonuses continue as well. Its a game of delaying. A couple of months more, a year more, two years maybe. Its a game. – Lobbyist, working in Brussels.


You have a couple of big banks with one goal: world domination. In 1981 the Americans cut AT&T in pieces. There comes a moment when this happens to the banks as well. Its just a story of competition. That is what’s going on in Brussels right now as well. – Lobbyist, working in Brussels.


You have a couple of intellectuals, but most of them just think about the next election, their constituents and hopefully not to much about their own bank account. But, also those folks are present. – Lobbyist, working in Brussels, on politicians in Brussels.


One of the positive notes on the lobby and PR sector is that the sector and its budgets have been growing enormously. If you look at the big companies in the transparency register, some of them are not making big profits, but the majority of them show growth and some of them even doubled their budgets. It’s now or never. If you can’t sell your case right now, you are worth nothing. – Lobbyist, working in Brussels.


Its the only thing we have right now. You are not obliged to register yourself, so in that sense you can raise questions about it. But making it manditory doesn’t solve the problem either, my guess is. There is no capacity to do something with all the information. – Lobbyist, working in Brussels, on the transparancy register for lobbyists.


First of all you have people from different kind of administrative cultures here. Second, you have people who were used to work in other structures, like that of the Commission or the Council. Then you have people who where transferred directly from their Ministry into this building. You have people who have been put into leading positions without any training. All these different cultures with different languages are mixed up together. What a Frenchman says in English, is not what a Dutchman or Spaniard would say. So, you have a problem of interpretation as well. – IT coordinator, working in Brussels.


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EU Insider in Brussels. A chat with a lobbyist, part 2.

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We continue where we left of yesterday. A conversation with a lobbyist about the culture of lobbying, moral guilt, life in Brussels and more. You can read part 1 of this interview here.

Was there one specific moment that made you decide to step out?

There was not one specific moment. I had set an ultimatum for myself. If it’s not improving, I thought, I would go looking for something else. At first, I didn’t find anything. I was offered a couple of jobs as well, but rejected them. In the financial world you have a couple of organizations where heavy conflictual situations are not part of the daily routine. The world of creditcard companies for instance is completely different than the world of investment banks who are in the business of making money with money. On a certain moment I just stepped out. My backup plan was to pick up my studies again. In the end I found my spot at an organization with refreshing ideas.

How would you describe the lobby culture in the financial world?

It’s changing, but within the financial world you have a lot of alpha males with  high levels of testosterone. Its a certain character of people. When you look at backgrounds in terms of education its quite arbitrary. People start working in the business when they are 25 years old and their salary is high. You go home with the idea that you’ve lost 1 billion Euros, but can compensate it by making the same amount next day. You lose every feeling of its value, of what a society should be and what important is in life. Its about making money. The bonuses they receive are not particular spend wise, so to say. At an investment bank the formula is simple. Bonuses are divided according to three factors. Yourself, the team and the company. Very meritocratic. Often 30 procent is for the individual. It stimulates the competition. It influences the atmosphere. Not meant in a positive way.

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EU Insider in Brussels. A chat with a lobbyist, part 1.

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What is lobbying exactly? How do we define it? The Oxford dictionary describes lobbying as follows:

Mid 16th century (in the sense ‘monastic cloister’): from medieval Latin lobia, lobium ‘covered walk, portico’. The verb sense (originally US) derives from the practice of frequenting the lobby of a house of legislature to influence its members into supporting a cause.

What is lobbying according to my interviewee? It´s my first question sitting on a sunny terrace in the centre of Brussels.  She (or he, who knows?) lobbied for the financial world quite some time and is now busy with a project ‘ to let the financial world work for society again, and not the other way around’, as the interviewee calls it.

This is part 1 of a conversation about what lobbying is, moral guilt, transparancy and the culture of the Brussels based lobbying scene. Tomorrow we will publish part 2.

What is lobbying according to you?

I would describe it as the interaction with policy makers with the goal to influence them. You have three elements: policy makers, interaction and influence. About all of them you can say a whole bunch of stuff.

Sometimes lobbying is portrayed as something ‘bad’ or shadowy.

Well, what is the bad or shadowy part then? Often, if you continue the conversation, people tell you indeed they find it sometimes shadowy. It becomes like that if you are not transparent. Or, they tell you it’s all wrong and corrupt. I don’t know anybody in my profession who is either corrupt or ‘wrong.’

In the meantime:

The guy who’s walking there is working for the glass industry. He’s not bribing people. And he doesn’t go to restaurants or whorehouses to bribe policy makers or business people. Thats corruption, something totally different.

It also has to do with your own political position. You have to be aware that lobbying is something huge. It covers a lot of topics. You can go to a meeting, you can write a piece in the newspaper or you can write an online article. There are so many ways of influencing people. Both direct and indirect. If you are able to write a Letter to the Editor in the Financial Times, you know for sure MEP’s will read it. The letter probably has a bigger impact then to take them out for lunch. Both of them you do with the intention to influence him or her. The question is, what do you want to forbid? What is the alternative if this work is ’wrong’? You are not voicing your own opinion, but from somebody you are working for. Its your boss. I get payed by the one who asks me to influence somebody. Is that wrong? If you have problems with this kind of work, you should decline doing it.

I once had a situation with a former employer, a client from the tobacco industry, a sensitive subject. The question was if there was somebody willing to take on this job. If you felt it was not your cup of tea, you could decline. Normally it doesn’t work that easy, but this time they asked the question head on. The same counts for the weapon industry. If you think its something you don’t want to do, decline. If you are a vegetarian, you shouldn’t go out and lobby for the Society of Slaughterhouses. You have to define your own limits. Right now, I don’t feel like lobbying for the financial industry, so I decline to do that. If somebody else has no harsh feelings about it, he or she is free to take on the task.

In eveything you do, you should always do it transparant and in the right proportions. You have to make sure there are forces who control you and know who’s doing what. If that’s not the case then corruption and shadowy behaviour can indeed come in.

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EU Insider in Brussels. A chat with a IT Coordinator


As with all important buildings in Brussels, you have to arrive early if you’re on a time schedule. Every time you enter a building, there’s the feeling a gate and a plane ready for take-off is not far away. Belts, laptops, cameras, pocket money. Put it in the basket please. Everybody could be a potential terrorist. After 10 minutes, i am cleared. Safe. Not a threat anymore. Relieved.

I am up for a chat with someone working at EU institutions quite a while. Starting as a scientist, this interviewee worked with lots of people and eventually ended up working as IT coordinator at the European Commission. Just like other conversations i had up till now, there’s protest on the use of ‘Brussels’ or ‘EU’. ” It’s a kind of a foreign enemy or ET figure. The best thing you can do is just open your windows and doors for people. Grab a cup of coffee and explain what we are doing.” So, we did.

I have seen people try to fight the system upwards. Very heroic, but eventually you kill yourself. Sometimes you recognize these kind of people, and you think ”oh no, what are you going to do”. There are other ways far more effective. You just don’t end up as the hero at the center of the universe.

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EU Expert in Brussels. A chat with a freelance writer

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The number of journalists who are leaving Brussels is increasing. You are freelance, you can write and have lots of knowledge about Europe and can tell in-depth stories about it. So, why don’t make a move to the Belgian capital and report about it? It seems like a perfect formula, but when reality comes in, it’s a hell of a job. You discover it’s actually pretty difficult to get your articles published in your own language, says this interviewee.

” I intended to work as a writer and journalist, but i approach it more and more as a part-time job alongside other activities. ”

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EU Expert in Brussel. A chat with a correspondent

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Walking between the high static buildings of Brussels i pass a security guard holding the tip of his hand on his ear. Youth with laptops enjoy their coffee. Business men leaning against expensive looking cars. In front of the entrance at the European Commission a journalist is talking with, what looks like, an important figure. The cameraman is ready. All people i walk by are different in age and looks, but what unites them is a card hanging fashionably around their necks. Access to power is only granted if you show something first.

The European Union. Brussels. Europe. Centre of power. The city, home to supranational institutes like the Commission, the Parlement and the European Council is often summarized in one word. Keep things simple. Not to difficult please. Travelling back to Amsterdam after spending my first day in Brussels, i hear a reporter on the radio say ‘that Brussels has decided something..’  I laugh, knowing i am listening to a big lie.

”There is that strange idea that Europe is some kind of animal that lives in Brussels. The whole story that Brussels decided something is just plain bullshit. Every journalist or politician that tells you Brussels decided something, lies.”

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